Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Rationale of a Community At Large - Why I'm Voting No on the Franklin City Schools Levy

            Let me preface. I have no agenda. This is not a conspiracy. This is a concerned voter sharing information with the powers that be about what they can do to get done what they can get done. Likely what will happen, as has been done before and is already being schemed about, is that “cuts that hurt” will be made so that voters will be much more obligated to pass a school levy [And indeed I was correct, as the proposal if the May 2014 vote fails is that, under the pretense of saving money, the elementary schools will be rearranged by grade in two divided areas. This would allow a handful of positions to be cut, but would cost significantly more in transitioning and in busing. Might this just be a way to punish another failure?] It is true that those who do not have kids in the district are more likely to vote no on a levy.  It is also true that those who have an interest, such as working for the district, will most certainly vote yes. Point being, all humans serve their own interests, so don’t play yourself off as exempt.
            I attended Franklin City Schools my entire life. I enjoyed this experience, and would not have wanted it any other way. I could not imagine my life any other way than having grown up in this city and this school district. What it has given me is much, both in connections to hundreds of wonderful people, and in a good education. Not one that compares to wealthy districts, but it got the job done. I harbor no bitterness, and I have not voted no due to bitterness, but due to the reality of the situation around us.
            That being said, if I did not just alienate many of these people, I may in the ensuing essay. This is far from my intention. It is my desire to help you see where I am coming from, and many others are coming from, rather than get in an argument on Facebook or at a football game. This is one of few opinions I have kept to myself due to it being, literally, close to home. However, after reading dozens of comments, clearly not thought through, bashing and defaming any “stupid”, “ignorant”, etc. person who would dare “vote against our kids” has moved me to stand up for the MAJORITY of Franklin who begs to differ. Such ad hominem arguments and fallacies strewn into one sentence is impressive due to the lack of effort required. Why would anyone vote against kids? Rather, there are so many legitimate reasons to vote against our levy. Play it off as hating children or education; clearly those of you who cannot use the correct form of “too” or in various other ways have taken the metaphorical chainsaw to your grammar and syntax are not benefitting from the current education, and are not making an impressive case for further funding.
            Taxes are almost exclusively the argument brought up when it comes to any levy, with this being no exception. Indeed this tax increase will be difficult for many. Those that have owned homes for years and are currently in hard times (or on permanent fixed incomes, such as those pesky senior citizens) find it hard to budget the extra money necessary to pay for such a levy. But, since precious little of you have had any economics training, it goes beyond that effect. When owners of rental properties (which are large in number and growing in Franklin) are taxed, that tax is often then placed on low income renters. Not everyone has solid employment, including solid employment with the very institution they are sending the money to. Empathizing with others and seeing where they are coming from, even if it does not change your position, is a very powerful thing in politics. Perhaps you should try it.
            “But this isn’t political.” Isn’t it? How many are aware of this is unknown. It was not hard to see as an informed and alert (I mean, “ignorant”, “stupid”, scary future generation- I couldn’t get that exact quote because it was quickly deleted) student that there is an obvious spoils system throughout the Franklin school district. I will not mention specific instances, not because I do not have a plethora, but because that would simply be too personal. [I now relent from that. At the recent opening for athletic director and head football coach, there were plenty of outside applicants. But from the very beginning I predicted, correctly, who would get the jobs. Not that I have a problem with the individuals in the position; on the contrary, I don’t mind them. But it is yet another example of refusing to look at someone outside of this circle.] Nonetheless, nowadays, it is almost a must that one must be a Franklin graduate to be hired at Franklin, unless it is a position that requires special skills. But being a Franklin grad is not enough; one must have connections. If you do, by all means apply; regardless of your qualifications you will likely be hired. If you do not, don’t spend the ink to print a résumé. I have seen this issue with my mother, who with subbing experience and a master’s degree was several times passed over for candidates straight out of college with bachelor’s degrees. I have also seen it with a Franklin graduate who did not have the connections that another did, though she was a valedictorian (as was yours truly, if that increases my credibility at all). You say, “See, you are bitter.” No, I am not. It is sad that this is where we are at. We can’t reach outside of our cliques. But my mother is happy with where she is at. Having a retired father and unemployed mother taught me how to survive on less. (Situations like these cannot afford levies.) I’m not sure where this corruption started, or why it is believed it is okay, but this, far more than any levy failure, is “hurting our kids”. We are not choosing the most qualified candidates, but the most beloved, the most known to others. Instead of having principals hire teachers, decisions have before been left up to coworkers, other teachers, who can determine who they would most enjoy to have in the lounge with them. This sells short students and taxpayers, who trust the schools to give them the best education possible. They do not care if the teachers can go have a beer together on the weekend. They want to be educated. Give them that education. It does not start with a levy. You simply do not demand a levy and expect taxpayers to trust you with their ADDITIONAL money. You earn their trust, provide the education, and if the time comes that you truly need more money, they will provide. If they do not, I will be unhappy with you, though not in a bitter, angry, irrational way.
            While on the topic, another thing that hurts the kids is the terrible example set from the school board down in trying to sneak levies through. It has happened several times, the last time being this past August, 2013. Deny it all you want. It was not advertised. It was published once in a general article in the Middletown Journal. The chances of seeing that is low. It might have been in the Chronicle, but it rarely has Franklin news, so from what I hear its circulation is pretty low. There were few, if any signs put out, contrary to last time. I worked at a polling place in the library. My precinct had a 9% turnout, higher than the precinct on the other side with a 7% turnout. Many said that they had just heard about the levy the day before when their friend called them. Some even said that they just saw the “voting today” signs out and came in. This was not advertised. The desire was that supporters would go and vote, being aware of the levy, and that those who would not support would stay ignorant of it and not show up. This is unethical; it is wrong. Thankfully, it backfired.
            Further proving itself unable to be trusted with taxpayer money, Franklin schools has its priorities backwards. “It’s for the kids. You must not care about the kids.” If you cared about the kids, you would channel the funds you have toward them. Instead, you have funneled much of this money into the athletic programs, at the expense of academics. No, it is not a lie. Franklin’s excellent rating has fallen off. With the new report card system, Franklin earned a B in 2012-13, scoring all B’s and a C. [It was actually three B’s and two C’s, meaning we as a district were dangerously close to a C rating. (http://stateimpact.npr.org/ohio/2013/08/22/2012-13-ohio-school-district-report-cards/#table)] This is not excellent. By definition, A is excellent. There is room for improvement. [In addition, I have been asked to provide further proof that Franklin has fallen off in academic performance over the last few years. According to stateimpact.npr.org, it has been awhile since Franklin City Schools has had the “Excellent” rating it boasts about. Going back to its 2010-11 data, Franklin was rated “Effective”, as it was the following year before the new criteria was implemented.] Again many will bring up, “This is why we need a levy.” But before a levy was conceived, this performance was evaluated. It is not a need for new funds, but a mishandling of current funds. I am not against athletics. I am a Sports Business major. My current plan is to make a living off of athletics. I enjoy any sport, and participated in marching band and soccer in high school. But we must be clear about what the goal of an educational institution is. When push comes to shove, academics must takes precedence. What is the point of having a student body who can compete on the field or court if they cannot compete in college applications or once they get to college? Franklin is all about athletics, and I love sports. But how many people from Franklin have made a career of being a professional athlete? One. Frank Lickliter II, who lives in Florida now. The rest of the thousands of graduates must (at least this is the goal) make a living working in another field. What is most important?
            Apparently, football, basketball, and baseball are. The lopsided amount of attention paid to these sports, specifically the former two, was obvious to me and countless others. I am a football and basketball fan. I played pee-wee football here and enjoyed many football and basketball games. But due to them being the income-generating and popular sports, they received the special treatment. They received new uniforms twice before other sports received them once. (I watched this happen with these teams contrasted with the soccer team, for one example.) They often received their extra gear complimentary while others had to pay, and received much more of it. When special events happened, it was these sports that were the center of attention. I am not bitter about this; I understand the culture of the city. If the school were a business this would make complete sense. But it is not a business, it is a school, where all athletes should be treated equally. Even if this may not happen in the community or by other students, the district itself should. But it does not. When the position of soccer coach was vacated, there was no search. The candidate that applied was chosen, and that was that. Little thought is given to “minor” sports. Could this be why sports such as soccer, swimming, volleyball, and tennis have failed to see much success in recent years? Yet football, basketball, and baseball are always in the running. Where is the fairness? Where is the funding for these other sports and athletes? But above that, why not put some of the large budget given to the income-generating sports towards increasing academic success? Why are we more worried about a job candidate, who has the connections, being able to coach rather than teach? When my mother was rejected the first time, we suspected this. When rejected the second time, we asked. “Well, being a coach is not the reason we are hiring them,” was the response, “but it is certainly an added benefit.” [A special shortcoming can be seen in this area of 8th grade social studies, where my mother interviewed. Before the test was done away with, one teacher’s scores were at a 45% passing rate. He was then promoted to an easier position at the high school and his position was filled with, imagine, another coach.] Then it is a wonder we cannot compete with other districts in academics. The testimony of a student who came from one of the classrooms was that he [an 8th grade social studies teacher] never really went over anything, just talked about sports. We need coaches, but more importantly, we need solid teachers. We are destined for failure from the beginning if our priorities are incorrect.
            There were many complaints about Governor John Kasich’s school funding plan last school year. What many either were ignorant of or refused to acknowledge is that that plan was not final. Still in the works is another billion dollars going to Ohio school districts. Before Franklin’s school board and supporters insist upon further funding, should they not see where this funding will go? What is stopping them? Greed? Lack of research? If Franklin does get more funding, there are specific things the money needs to go to. The Junior High is fast approaching 100 years old, and is not in the best condition. Back in my father’s day (the 1970s) it had a reputation. A new junior high must be in order. Yes there was a ballot issue to build a new high school and make the high school the junior high. A junior high does not need the space of the high school, along with two gyms and an auditorium. Too much work has been put into the high school. Why should that much extra money, even at a discount, be spent to build a new high school and rehab the current one into a junior high? Again, it goes back to greed and wanting to be like other districts that have done the same. Some in the community want to say we are as good as other communities. But we are not those communities; we never will be. And I am glad we are not. We are Franklin, and we must be realistic with funding.
            [I feel it is worth noting as well the drug problem that has developed over the years at the high school, and even the junior high. A few students were arrested for dealing or purchasing drugs this past school year, and administration played it off as an isolated event. Ask any Franklin High School student- that was not an isolated event. Two people I graduated with have died over the past year. One was heavily addicted and experimenting with various drugs; the other died of an overdose. It is a rampant problem, one that having a resource officer could curb. But a resource officer was removed a number of years back, and, despite further funding, was not added back.]

            I have put myself into my community for the extent of my life thus far. I have been successful so far, in part, due to it. I wish nothing but the best for Franklin schools and wish to see us compete, yes, in athletics, but more so in the area of academics, as I have seen with the test scores of several of those in the graduating class behind me. There are truly great minds in the upcoming generation of this district, but some are being limited by the practices of a few self-interested individuals. I am thankful for the many teachers I have had that have helped me to unlock my potential. I do not “not care about the kids”. I am not “stupid” or “ignorant”; in fact, looking at GPA and test scores, without the slightest bit of conceit or pride, I am likely smarter than you. I am however, observant. To a scary degree. And with what I have seen, I cannot, in good conscience, vote in the affirmative for any levy of Franklin City Schools under its current situation and the way it is managed. Drop me from Facebook- it’s already happened, as it has happened many times before. [And it happened for several people after this essays’ initial publication.] How dare anyone stand up for their beliefs in a credible way instead of whining and making sweeping generalizations. But I could no longer stand by and keep silent as so many were wrongly accused by people who misunderstood them or simply do not care about them- especially when it is the accusers’ side that is so boldly in the wrong. Perhaps I have opened eyes. Doubtless I have made people angry. But when the truth is revealed, anger is so often an unfortunate but realistic side effect. If the school board and those on down would implement these recommendations, I would happily vote for a reasonable tax increase. We may find that one isn’t necessary. Maybe I’m just part of a rare group that refuses to accept corruption. A more likely situation is that “cuts that hurt” will be implemented and voters, who will be blamed for these cuts that could have been made in other places, will cave and vote for the levy. [Again, I called it.] But when this time comes, know that I will be, with pride in my community, still be voting no. Because it is for this very pride that makes me want to see things changed.

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